The Sri Lanka Press Institute expresses shock and horror at Monday’s brutal attack on Mr. Poddala Jayantha, an outspoken media rights activist and Secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association who recently joined the board of directors of the SLPI.
There is no reason to believe that this attack was unconnected to his public role defending press freedom and media rights and can only be seen as the latest manifestation of the frightening trend of an unrestrained jackboot stamping on the cherished right of speaking out on public issues relating to press freedom.
It is now nearly five months since Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered on a public road in broad daylight. We have heard a plethora of platitudes about ongoing investigations and promises that those responsible will be brought to book. Outside arresting somebody who appears to have stolen Wickrematunge’s mobile phone, nothing concrete has emerged from the investigation into his killing as far as the people are aware.
Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene condemned the attack on Jayantha, a Lake House employee, at a news briefing. Almost in the same breath he said that there was information that several army officers, businessmen and media personnel were under investigation over LTTE links.
Abeywardene, however, had declined to name the suspect journalists although he had said investigations were ongoing. The Dinamina, in a front page news report, said that military intelligence had information of about 50 media personnel who were paid Tiger informants and papers connected to such payments have been found by the authorities.
The SLPI is not in any way defending media personnel who may or may not have engaged in anti-national activity for filthy lucre. But we echo the widely-held public perception that some agency of the state had been responsible of most of the recent attacks on the media that made many senior journalists flee the country. Such a perception would persist until the perpetrators are brought to book. Until then, the public cannot be blamed for asking with the Roman poet, Juvenal, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes – who guards the guards themselves?
The Dinamina also launched a scathing editorial attack on Sunanda Deshapriya, a former leader of the Free Media Movement, now facing allegations of various financial irregularities. The same editorial, without naming Jayantha, pointed a finger at him and the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association by bracketing them by title with Deshapriya and leftist Vickremabahu Karunaratne (both of whom were named) saying there was information that they had been active in destabilizing the South after receiving payment from the LTTE.
The Divaina newspaper too had a hard-hitting editorial recommending the death penalty for treachery saying that names of media personnel, university professors and lecturers and other professionals in the pay of the LTTE have been found. We do not know the truth or otherwise of such allegations but the information on which the news stories and editorials had been written appeared to have been leaked by some state-connected agency. If in fact there is hard evidence of such treachery, it is the duty of the government to launch due process against the perpetrators and not utilize shadowy group riding white vans to deal out summary justice.
Poddala Jayantha lies in hospital today with a broken ankle. He had been seriously roughed up. Let not this case too remain in a dossier of unsolved mysteries such as those involving Keith Noyhar, Namal Perera, D. Sivaram, Lasantha Wickrematunge, Upali Tennekoon, about five Rupavahini employees and many other journalists who were either killed or beaten up during the watch of the present administration.